What's Alan watching? Why, the 'What's Alan Watching?' pilot, of course!
Eddie Murphy, Corin Nemec and Fran Drescher in the unsold pilot that gave this blog its name
It's December, which is list-making time in the entertainment journalism business, and I've noticed a lot more chatter this year on Twitter between different critics as they try to figure out their best-of and worst-of lists. The other day, someone asked whether NBC's horrible "Wonder Woman" pilot - which never aired, but leaked briefly on the Internet - should be eligible. That got me thinking about ye olden days of the '70s and '80s when TV networks would actually air some of their unsold pilots, especially when they were two hours long and could be presented as a TV-movie, or if they had something special that the network could promote one time, even if no one felt it would work as a series.
One example of the latter kind of Busted Pilot Theatre was the show that gave my blog its name: 1989's "What's Alan Watching?," a one-hour family comedy starring a pre-"Parker Lewis Can't Lose" Corin Nemec as Alan Hoffstetter, a suburban teenager who tried to escape his unhappy life by spending hours in front of the TV, often having fantasies where the TV characters would talk to him.
It was produced by Eddie Murphy, directed by a young Tommy Schlamme, and created by Bernie Blaustein and David Sheffield, who had written most of the really memorable Eddie sketches on "SNL," and Eddie consented to appear in several of the pilot's TV sketches, as both a James Brown fan pleading for his release from prison and as the Godfather of Soul himself. It was Murphy's presence - his first TV comedy work since leaving "SNL" in 1984 - that got CBS to put it on the air, even though executives were skittish about the show's long-term prospects.
Murphy's presence, and the subject matter, also caught the attention of the nation's TV critics, and "What's Alan Watching?" was an unlikely winner for that year's TCA Award for outstanding movie, miniseries or special. I wasn't a TV critic back then, but aAs a teenager named Alan who spent too much time watching television (albeit never imagining that "Jeopardy!" would devote a category to my family), the show caught my eye, stayed on a treasured VHS tape for a long time, and eventually seemed a natural choice to be the name of my blog when I started it up many years later.
The Twitter discussion of poor Adrianne Palicki as Wonder Woman got me wondering if "What's Alan Watching?" had finally turned up on YouTube - and, while talking about it with Todd Van Der Werff, we found out that it was, in two large chunks. There are a couple of bits where the video goes haywire for me, but you can watch virtually all of the pilot in the two clips embedded below.
It was interesting watching this again for the first time in more than a decade. The family material remains completely unremarkable (thought it features a young-ish Fran Drescher as Alan's older sister, and Barbara Barrie in one of her patented quirky but understanding mother roles), and I imagine that's what scared CBS off back in the day. The TV sketches hold up much better, even if the idea of satirizing TV shows in this way seems much less novel. (Even at the time, it was starting to become familiar; the same year as the pilot, Weird Al's "UHF" had a similar "Gandhi does a TV special" spoof.) Eddie as James Brown is never not funny, and the Mr. Ed biography plays out like a "Behind the Music" parody years early.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention, it's also fascinating to me to see a snapshot of the TV era I grew up watching, just in the way that Alan doesn't have a DVR, doesn't have dozens of cable channels catering specifically to his age and interests, and that he therefore has to surf around and see what's on - and as a result winds up watching a lot of things not necessarily made with a teenage boy in mind. I got exposed to a lot of older material for the same reason (I've seen every Abbott & Costello movie, for instance, because it was the only thing vaguely of interest to me on Saturday afternoons), and while some people are still adventurous in their channel-surfing, it's not nearly as prevalent these days.
So if you're curious for an obscure bit of TV history, and/or a piece of this blog's origin story, here's "What's Alan Watching," in two parts:
News From Our Partners
- Box Office Guru Wrapup: Star Trek Softer Than Expected at #1 Weekly Ketchup: Will Smith to Star in Wild Bunch Remake? Critics Consensus: Star Trek Into Darkness is Certified Fresh
- 'Doctor Who' Season 8 Confirmed, Steven Moffat to Return The Wrap Up: Behind-the-Scenes Image from 'Godzilla' Shows a Train in Peril Batman: Arkham Origins Will See the Return of Kevin Conroy
- A Final 'Office' Farewell Stefon Marries Anderson Cooper In Final Show Creed Bratton: Closing Creed Thoughts
- The Telefile - The Most Heinous Person on Reality TV This Week The Telefile - Modern Family: The Best Lines of the Night The Telefile - Fall TV 2013: What's On When
- Box Office: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Misses $100M Domestic Mark on Opening Weekend Beyonce Pregnant Again? Sources Confirm 'Epic' Star Is Carrying Baby No. 2 'Hangover 3' Red Band Trailer: Take a Walk Down a NSFW Memory Lane (VIDEO)
- FTW vs. WTF: The TV Week in Review (May 19) Doctor Who "The Name of the Doctor" Review: The Impossible Girl Made Possible What to Watch This Weekend: The Season Finales of Nikita, Doctor Who, The Simpsons, and Family Guy
- Cannes Film Festival: Cannes 2013, Day Four: The Coen brothers return to the festival with a folk-rock flashback Cannes Film Festival: Cannes 2013, Day Three: Cheers for the young stars of The Selfish Giant, jeers for the new films by Hirokazu Kore-eda and Arnaud Desplechin Watch This: With Beavis And Butt-head Do America, Mike Judge skewered the idiocy of cinematic adventures
- Carly Rae Jepsen's 'Call Me Maybe' Captures Top Digital Song Honor at 2013 Billboard Music Awards Macklemore + Ryan Lewis Win Best Rap Song for 'Thrift Shop' at 2013 Billboard Music Awards 2013 Billboard Music Awards Gets a Tour From Taylor Swift's '22′ Performance [Video]
The Lannisters throw a wedding, Daenerys faces a new army, and Stannis meets GendrySunday, May 19, 2013
Promising pilots, puzzling scheduling moves and moreSunday, May 19, 2013
The Doctor uncovers Clara's secret and comes face-to-face with a surprising figureSaturday, May 18, 2013
Dan and Alan also discuss the recent finales of 'Survivor' and 'The Amazing Race'Friday, May 17, 2013